Since March, Girl Scouts has not been able to operate in the same manner it has been accustomed to for the past 100 years.

Since the journey began with Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low, Girl Scouts has been an organization  dedicated to building girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.

Although the mission remains the same and being a G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ is still in their DNA, the delivery model has been forced to change in 2020.  Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey (GSHNJ) has transitioned to a new way of Girl Scouting for tens of thousands of girls across seven counties of New Jersey.  

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What makes the Girl Scout Leadership Experience so unique is its ability to adapt to the needs of girls, and keep them motivated and engaged regardless of extenuating circumstances—like when they need to stay at home for schooling and socializing.  Over the past several months, as troops could no longer meet in person, leaders have found new ways to give their girls a quality Girl Scout experience—to continue to earn patches or badges and contribute to their communities. 

To remain a robust, relevant, vital part of girls’ lives, GSHNJ had to reengineer its entire programming menu in response to COVID restrictions. In-person summer camp was cancelled, but week-long virtual experiences imbued with the camp spirit so many girls look forward to each summer were offered alongside family pod overnight camping. 

“Even as other extra-curricular activities are suspended during the COVID pandemic, GSHNJ has quickly and effectively found new ways to keep our membership engaged, and to fill the gap left by the suspension of after-school activities,” said Jamie Kay Discher, Director of Girl Experience at GSHNJ.  “We continue to deliver the best Girl Scout Leadership Experience through new virtual and remote program delivery models to give girls a fun and safe way to stay connected to their troops, friends, families, and communities.”

For example, a program that traditionally would have been geared toward troops was instead adapted to encourage a girl’s entire family to participate.  The Family Ramblers Hiking Club uses technology to connect families and subject matter experts who share tips and best practices for hiking in NJ. As families hike, girls report their experiences and earn recognitions. Over the summer, The Ramblers collectively logged over 650 miles through 243 outdoor adventures. 

In some ways, engaging with new technology has given GSHNJ an opportunity to expose girls to experiences they might not otherwise have had.  Online meeting platforms enable girls to meet and engage with influential, inspiring women role models without the limitations of travel. Since the start of the pandemic, GSHNJ has virtually connected members with leading women from around the world working in industries ranging from STEM to politics to environmental stewardship.

Another important aspect of Girl Scouting that has not changed is the commitment to community service.  “At GSHNJ, service is the heart of our program,” Discher explained.  “This year, from April through September, girls earning their Bronze, Silver or Gold Awards met the challenges presented during the pandemic accomplishing more than 10,000 service hours and effecting real change within their communities.”  

Natasha Hemmings, the CEO of GSHNJ, has been an instrumental part of the transition.  “Yes, this has been a very challenging year for Girl Scouts, but we are still offering quality, engaging programs to girls throughout our council footprint,” she said. “We have just embraced a new type of delivery system, and are offering opportunities that are more family-based.”

Hemmings noted there are some awesome perks that come with being CEO: one is the ability to create her own patch for the girls to earn.  With some direction from her daughter, she created a patch that states, “Be the Change.”

This year any currently registered Girl Scout can earn her patch by fulfilling certain criteria at home. “Handing out CEO patches is intended to encourage girls to share their ideas and feedback about their experiences; this temporary patch program reimagines the ways girls engage with me so we can still get to know each other,” Hemmings explained.

“During this time of social distancing, as we continue to do our part to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 virus, we want girls to know that GSHNJ is offering the same quality programming, support, and experiences, and there are several options to join,” she added.

“All girls are welcome!”

To register for the many programs GSHNJ has planned this winter, visit www.gshnj.org/events

About Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey

Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey (GSHNJ) believes in the power of every G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ to change the world. Providing nearly 18,000 New Jersey girls access to premier leadership programs and mentors throughout Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Somerset, Union, southern Warren, and parts of Middlesex counties, GSHNJ offers girls a chance to practice a lifetime of leadership, adventure, and success. GSHNJ has two service centers located in North Branch and Westfield, and operates three summer camps: Camp Hoover in Middleville, NJ, Camp DeWitt in Hillsborough, NJ, and The OVAL in Maplewood, NJ. To volunteer, reconnect, donate, or join, please visit www.gshnj.org